Pentagon probing alleged abuse at Afghan military hospital

WASHINGTON Thu Jun 21, 2012 5:34am IST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon is investigating a U.S.-funded Afghan military hospital where there have been allegations of corruption and abuse of patients, a Defense Department official said on Wednesday.

David Sedney told a House of Representatives subcommittee that "investigations and corrective action" were under way at Dawood National Military Hospital in Kabul.

"The things that happened at that hospital are the kind of things that should never happen to any human being anywhere," said Sedney, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia. "We are working with the Afghans to correct them."

U.S. lawmakers began asking questions about the hospital last year after incidents of Afghan service members dying there of neglect and starvation were reported by The Wall Street Journal in September.

Last week, Republican Representative Jason Chaffetz sent Pentagon chief Leon Panetta a letter about the hospital on behalf of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Chaffetz asked the Pentagon to investigate whether senior U.S. military officials sought to cover up reports of abuse at the facility back in 2010.

Sedney was not asked about any cover-up allegations on Wednesday during his testimony before a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee. The topic of the hearing was the Afghan national security forces.

The U.S.-led NATO force in Afghanistan is preparing to hand control of Afghanistan to that country's security forces by the middle of next year, putting the Western alliance on a path out of the unpopular, decade-long war.

Republican Representative Mike Coffman told Sedney that $42 million in U.S. aid was "missing, unaccounted for" at the Kabul military hospital. The lawmaker said he was concerned about U.S. taxpayer dollars that had been spent at the facility and to train Afghan security forces.

"Afghan police and Afghan soldiers were dying in the hospital from malnutrition, and from a lack of medical care, because the families couldn't come up with the necessary bribes," Coffman said.

Coffman questioned what the alleged corruption at the hospital meant for the U.S. strategy of preparing Afghan forces to take over the fight against the Taliban, wondering how "capable" those forces were when they allowed such events to occur.

Sedney responded that "corruption has been part of the fabric of life" in Afghanistan, but he did not believe the majority of Afghans wanted that to continue.

"While recognizing corruption is a problem, I would not agree it's endemic to the point where our investments (in Afghanistan) are not going to pay off," Sedney said.

(Reporting By Susan Cornwell; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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